Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

they were employed in agriculture, for the subsistence of two million persons. It is the same with the superfluous tradesmen, the number of whom is incalculable; and when we come to explain the commercial method of the sixth Period, Collective Competition, we shall be convinced that Commerce might be carried on with a fourth as many agents as it now employs, and that there are, in France alone, a million of inhabitants withdrawn from agriculture and manufactures by the superabundance of agents created by free competition. France alone, then, in consequence of the error of the Economists, suffers an annual loss of products sufficient for the subsistence of four million inhabitants.

Besides the waste of human labor, the present Order causes also a waste of capital and of products. I shall cite as an illustration of this, one of the most common abuses of the present day, namely, the breaking down of commercial rivals.

Since the Revolution we hear of nothing in the commercial world but the breaking down of rival tradesmen. Become too numerous, they compete furiously with each other for sales, which, owing to the excess of competition, are more and more difficult every day. A city which consumed a thousand tons of sugar when it had but ten tradesmen, still consumes but a thousand tons when the number is increased to forty; this is seen all over the world. Now we hear these swarms of merchants complaining of the dullness of trade, when they ought rather to complain of the superabundance of tradesmen. They exhaust themselves in making useless displays to attract customers, and run into the most foolish extravagance for the purpose of crushing their rivals.

It is an error to suppose that the merchant is a slave to interest alone; he is equally a slave to jealousy and pride. Some of them ruin themselves for the sterile honor of “doing a big business, others from a desire to break down a rival whose success enrages them. Commercial ambition, however low it may be, is still violent, and if the achievements of Miltiades disturbed the sleep of Themistocles, it may also be said that the sales of one tradesman disturb the sleep of another. Hence comes this insane competition by which so many merchants ruin each other, and exhaust themselves in expenses the burden of which falls ultimately upon the consumer; for, in the last analysis, all loss is supported by the community at large. Now if the new commercial order (Collective Competition) would reduce by three-fourths. the number of commercial agents and the amount of commercial expenses, the price of products would be diminished in a like proportion; then we should see production increase in proportion to the demand occasioned by the reduction in price, and to the amount of labor and capital restored to agriculture by the diminution in the number of commercial agents.

One abuse leads to another; this is as true in Commerce as in Government. For example, multiplicity of commercial agents leads to speculation and bankruptcy. We see a striking proof of this in the rivalry of stage-coach companies, which for the sake of ruining each other would often be willing to carry travelers gratis. In seeing them lower their prices, in order to break each other down, people say: "Soon they will pay us a premium to go in their conveyances.”

It is important to dwell on these details, in order to prove that the Economists, in assuming gain to be the only motive of tradesmen, have grossly deceived themselves. What sensible man would have conceived the idea of carrying passengers from Paris to Rennes for eighteen francs ? Yet such are the follies produced by the mania for breaking down rivals. The result of these industrial conflicts, so agreeable to travelers, is the bankruptcy of the various parties engaged in them, who, at some months apart, are ruined by each other. The loss occasioned by their bankruptcy is borne, in the end, by the public who always take an interest in the most foolish enterprises which, notwithstanding their nonsuccess, yield a profit to the bankrupts by the spoliation of their co-associates whose funds are never reimbursed. Hence it is that the merchants, certain to save themselves, in case of reverses, by a bankruptcy, hazard everything in order to ruin a rival and rejoice over the downfall of a neighbor, like those Japanese who put out one eye at the door of an enemy that they may cause him, according to their law, to lose both. The old established commercial houses, disconcerted by these destructive rivalries, renounce a profession become so hazardous and corrupt through the intrigues of the newcomers, who, in order to obtain the vogue, commence by selling at a loss. The old houses not caring to lose in this way, find themselves deserted, deprived of custom, and unable to meet their engagements. Soon the two parties fall into difficulties and are obliged to recur to the money lender, whose usurious aid increases their embarrassment and hastens the fall of both

It is thus that Free Competition, by engendering bankruptcies, encourages the system of usury, and gives to it the colossal importance it now possesses. At the present day, usurers are found in our smallest towns; everywhere we see men who, under the name of bankers and brokers, have no other trade than that of lending on usury, and thus stimulating the strife of competition. By their advances they encourage a host of superfluous tradesmen, who plunge into the most absurd speculations and who, when they are in difficulties, have recourse to the bankers by whom they are shaved.” The latter, from their favorable position in the commercial arena, aggravate the evil, and resemble those hordes of Arabs who hover about an army, waiting to despoil the vanquished, whether enemies or friends.

In view of so many rapines and absurdities engendered by Commerce, can it be doubted that the Ancients were right in treating it with contempt? As for the philosophers, who in their theories of Political Economy extol and defend it, are they not a set of shameless charlatans ? And can we hope to see the reign of truth, of justice, or of order in industrial relations till we have condemned the present commercial system, and invented a method for the Exchange of Products, less degrading to the social body?

DECLINE OF THE CIVILIZED ORDER

SHALL merely allude to a subject here which should be treated 1 in full, namely, The Right of Man to Labor; in other words,

the right to regular, congenial, and remunerative employment. I shall take good care not to renew the old political controversy upon the rights of man. After the revolutions to which this controversy has given rise, will it be believed that we are running the risk of new political convulsions for having overlooked the first and most important of these rights, namely, the Right to Labor? - a Right of which our politicians have never made the least mention, according to their uniform habit of omitting the most important questions in every branch of science.

Among the influence tending to restrict this right, I shall cite the formation of privileged corporations which, conducting a given branch of Industry, monopolize it, and arbitrarily close the doors of labor against whomever they please.

These corporations will become dangerous and lead to new outbreaks and convulsions, only by being extended to the whole commercial and industrial system. This event is not far distant, and it will be brought about all the more easily from the fact that it is not apprehended. The greatest evils have often sprung from imperceptible germs, as, for instance, Jacobinism. And if Civilization has engendered this and so many similar calamities, may it not engender others which we do not now foresee? The most imminent of these is the birth of a Commercial Feudalism, or the Monopoly of Commerce and Industry by large joint-stock companies, leagued together for the purpose of usurping and controlling all branches of industrial relations. Extremes meet; and the greater the extent to which anarchical competition is carried, the nearer is the approach to the reign of universal Monopoly, which is the opposite excess. It is the fate of Civili. zation to be always balancing between extremes. Circumstances are tending toward the organization of the commercial classes into federal companies or affiliated monopolies, which, operating in conjunction with the great landed interest, will reduce the middle and laboring classes to a state of commercial vassalage, and, by the influence of combined action, will become master of the productive industry of entire nations. The small operators will be forced, indirectly, to dispose of their products according to the wishes of these monopolists; they will become mere agents, working for the mercantile coalition. We shall thus see the reappearance of feudalism in an inverse order, founded on mercantile leagues and answering to the baronial leagues of the Middle Ages.

Everything is concurring to produce this result. The spirit of commercial monopoly and financial speculation has extended even to the great; the old nobility, ruined and dispossessed, seek distraction in financial speculations. The descendants of the old Knights excel in the mysteries of the Ready Reckoner and in the manoeuvres of the stock market, as their chivalrous ancestors excelled at the tournaments. Public opinion prostrates itself before the bankers and financiers, who in the capitals share authority with the government, and devise every day new means for the monopoly and control of Industry.

We are marching with rapid strides toward a Commercial Feudalism, and to the fourth Phase of Civilization. The philosophers, accustomed to reverence everything which comes in the name and under the sanction of commerce, will see this new Or. der spring up without alarm, and will consecrate their servile pens to celebrating its praises. Its début will be one of brilliant promise, but the result will be an Industrial Inquisition, subor. dinating the whole people to the interests of the affiliated monopolists. Thus, the philosophers, within a brief period, will have permitted the social Movement to retrograde in two ways; first, by the violent Revolution which in 1793 conducted Europe rapidly toward Barbarism, and, second, by the commercial anarchy and license which at the present day are causing a rapid decline toward the Feudal Order. Such are the melancholy results of our confidence in social guides who have no other object than to raise themselves by political intrigues to position and fortune. Philosophy needed some new subject to replace the old theological controversies, which it had completely exhausted; it was there. fore to the Golden Calf, to Commerce, that it turned its eyes, making it an object of social idolatry and scholastic dispute.

It is no longer to the Muses nor to their votaries, but to Traffic and its heroes that Fame now consecrates her hundred voices. We hear no longer of Wisdom, of Virtue, of Morality; all that has fallen into contempt, and incense is now burnt only on the altar of Commerce. The true grandeur of a nation, its only glory, according to the economists, is to sell to neighboring nations more cloths and calicoes than we purchase of them. France, always infatuated with novelties, inclines before the folly of the day, so that now no one can think or write except in praise of august Commerce. Even the great are slaves to this mania; a minister who wishes to become popular must promise to every village — «un Commerce immense et un immense Commerce"; a nobleman journeying through the provinces must announce himself in every town as a friend of Commerce, traveling for the good of Commerce. The savants of the nineteenth century are those who explain to us the mysteries of the stock market. Poesy and the fine arts are disdained, and the Temple of Fame is open no longer except to those who tell us why sugars are “feeble,” why soap is “firm.” Since philosophy has conceived a passion for Commerce, Polyhymnia decks the new science with flowers. The tenderest expressions have replaced the old language of the merchants, and it is now said, in elegant phrase, that “sugars are languid” – that is, are falling; that “soaps are looking up” – that is, have advanced. Formerly, pernicious man

« AnteriorContinuar »